Published: August 14, 2001
BOURNE, MASS. and OGUNQUIT, ME. – Items consigned from two old time collections created quite a bit of excrdf_Descriptionent recently at Decoys Unlimited’s Bourne, Mass. auction of waterfowl decoys.
The two-day auction, conducted Sunday, July 22, and Monday, July 23, kicked off a week-long New England decoy extravaganza that included a separate two-day mid-week auction conducted in Maine and an end of the week sale taking place back on the Cape.
More than 550 lots crossed the auction block at Ted Harmon’s Decoys Unlimited sale, with many of the featured rdf_Descriptions having been consigned from the renown collection of the late Herbert Hancock and also the collection of William Thorn.
The Hancock decoys attracted a great deal of attention from area collectors due to their local nature. The collection featured a selection of Massachusetts decoys including numerous Martha’s Vineyard made birds by the likes of Keyes Chadwick. Hancock was well known throughout the area as his family had resided on the Vineyard for multiple generations and he had actively served in local politics.
The William Thorn collection consisted of 50 working shorebirds that had descended through and been gunned over by his Long Island family since the early 1800s. Thorn, who has subsequently retired to the warmer climates of the South, had spent virtually his entire life on the shores of southern Long Island.
The shorebirds, which had been hunted over by several generations of his family, including William as a youth, had been presented to Thorn by his uncle around 1950 in three old bushel baskets. Thorn, now a North Carolina resident, is acknowledged as being one of the first Ducks Unlimited field representatives and eventually was promoted to be the executive director of the conservation organization.
The auction was well attended, with Harmon putting the size of the crowd at approximately “175 for both days.”
“We had over 100 bidding numbers out,” commented Judy Harmon after the auction, “plus we had a near record number of absentee and phone bids.”
Things got off to a slow start with the first lot to be offered, a Mason bufflehead drake with glass eyes in good original paint, selling at what Ted Harmon termed a “steal.” Estimated at $1/1,500, the decoy was in very good original paint and sold at only $357.50.
A Mason widgeon drake with original paint and minor touch-up also sold at a bargain price of $357.50, while an early canvasback drake with only minor touch-up brought $440. A Mason challenge grade merganser drake in worn original paint was the only Mason out of the first eight lots to exceed or come close to estimates with it selling above the $800/1,200 presale estimate at $1,540.
The top lot of the auction came from the numerous birds offered that were executed by Elmer Crowell. A rare and unusual bold carving of a goldeneye drake, circa 1915, was cataloged as being in “excellent original condition with just the right amount of light wear and patina.” The desirable bird featured deeply carved wing and tail feathers and a “sleepy tucked head” nestled down on the body. The decoy was branded with a large “S” and was thought in the past to have been part of a rig used by the Spear family. Harmon noted in the catalog that in fact the “S” brand was that of W.P. Smith, one of Crowell’s earliest and best customers.
Estimated at $10/15,000, the decoy was the subject of spirited bidding with the lot selling for a record price for a Crowell goldeneye drake at $15,400 (all prices include the ten percent buyer’s premium).
Other Crowell decoys included two “flatty” shorebirds, circa 1910, that were both from the same rig and were cataloged as being in excellent original condition. The first to be offered was a flat yellowlegs that sold above estimates at $4,180, while its rigmate, a black-breasted plover sold for a record price of $6,875. A nice plump Crowell black-bellied plover in original paint with glass eyes also did well, selling at $4,950.
Several Crowell miniatures were also offered, with a canvasback hen selling for $1,430 and a pair of bluebill miniatures realizing $2,310.
A rare and early working wood duck drake by the Ward Brothers, circa 1940, sold below estimates at $13,475. Paint on the bird was ninety percent original with professional touch-up and restoration to an old neck crack and chip on the underside of the crest thought to have hampered bidding interest. A pair of bluebills by the Ward Brothers, signed and dated 1972, were also offered with the lot selling between estimates at $3,850.
Decoys by Ben Schmidt did well, with a pair of green wing teal in excellent original condition selling above the $5/7,500 presale estimates at $10,450, a rare goose decoy brought $3,080, and a mallard hen realized $1,375. A pair of mallards by Peoria, Ill., carver Bert Graves in original paint sold at the low estimate bringing $3,175.
The Thorn collection attracted a great deal of attention from shorebird collectors throughout the country with one interested party commenting that it has become an increasingly “rare opportunity to purchase these rdf_Descriptions directly from the families that had used them.”
“There were 46 shorebirds consigned from the Thorn collection and they made up 35 lots in the auction,” stated Ted Harmon. “Those lots combined for a total of over $108,000,” he emphatically stated.
The top lots from the Thorn collection included a Hudsonian or Eskimo curlew from Long Island with glass eyes, original bill, and original paint on the body. The bill had an early repair thought by the auctioneer to have been done with fish net repair string. The breast and other white areas had overpaint that was estimated to be at least 100 years old. The rare shorebird, circa 1870, was possibly the work of Thomas Gelston and it sold at the high estimate of $8,800.
Two black bellied plovers captured the attention of collectors and left many speculating as to the maker. The early birds with “great chunky bodies” seemed to have been painted in the style of Verity, yet they possessed a form that resembled Bowman.
Speculation after the auction surmised that the early shorebirds predated both Verity and Bowman and that each carver had ultimately been somewhat influenced by these birds. “When Bowman moved to Lawrence, he had to have been influenced by these big bold birds,” said Ted Harmon. “The form is to die for, they are simply the best out there.”
The first lot, a black-bellied plover measuring almost four inches in width, retained the original bill and was in mostly original paint. Estimated at $3/5,000, bidding was somewhat reserved with the lot selling at the low estimate.
The next lot, however, a rigmate to the previous lot, was actively bid to a selling price of $8,800. Another black-bellied plover from the same rig, a two-piece bird with minor old repairs, brought $3,850.
Another of the Thorn shorebirds that captured the interest of the crowd was an extremely rare willet decoy carved in the “minnow in the throat” style. The bird, which appeared to have a fat minnow in its gullet, was in old working paint, although condition was marginal as it had been heavily struck by shot on the left side. The decoy, circa 1860, was termed a “fantastic and rare form for a Long Island shorebird” by Harmon. Condition on the bird kept the presale estimate at a conservative $½,000, although spirited bidding saw a $6,600 price realized.
Other Thorn birds of interest included a three lots of three shadow peeps each, all from the same rig, which sold for double and triple the high estimates bringing $4,675, $6,050 and $5,720. Another lot of three feeding peeps more than tripled estimates as they realized $8,250.
Items from the Herbert Hancock collection included a canvasback drake by James Look of Martha’s Vineyard in original condition that sold for $4,950, a pair of buffleheads by Keyes Chadwick that realized $1,430, and a high head pintail drake by Madison Mitchell that brought $1,980.
Other decoys of interest included a Joseph Lincoln black duck in near mint condition selling at $12,650, a yellowlegs shorebird by John Dilly in original paint for $12,100, and a full bodied Mason black-breasted plover, circa 1905, that brought $6,375.
George Boyd miniatures brought premium prices with Harmon stating that record prices were achieved for a couple different lots. A rare pair of Boyd miniature wood ducks established a record price paid at auction as they realized $8,250. Other Boyd miniatures included a pair of red breasted knots brought that $7,700, a red breasted merganser hen $4,325, a turned head goldeneye $4,070, and a rare miniature surf scoter established a record at $3,740.
A record price paid at auction for a Boyd yellowlegs decoy was also established as an example in near mint condition brought $4,675.
Guyette & Schmidt, Inc, conducted their annual summer decoy auction on July 26 and 27 at the Cliff House resort hotel, Ogunquit, on the coast of Maine.
The event drew a crowd of about 350 and grossed $1.75 million, a sum approximately 20 percent higher than anticipated. Thirty-one lots sold for over $10,000.
As was the case in the April auction, prices were strong. Top lot in the sale was an important and early hollow reaching-head brant by Nathan Cobb, Jr, of Cobb’s Island, Va., which sold for $60,500. A very rare redhead drake by Elkanah Cobb, Nathan Cobb, Sr, sold for $56,100. The crowd was not large, but was very enthusiastic, and there were many more phone and absentee bidders than normal.
Frank Schmidt and Gary Guyette assembled over 900 decoys and related rdf_Descriptions from collections and directly out of houses all over the United States and Canada. As with the spring auction, decoratives and miniatures by Elmer Crowell brought very high prices. Also, Ontario decoys from the collection of Barney Crandall continually sold over estimate.
Prices realized include the buyer’s premium.
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